Tag Archives: independent bookstores

Why Tour Paris? Reason No. 1: Shakespeare and Company, A Bookstore as Cozy as You Imagine a Bookstore Would Be

There are two kinds of tourist attractions in Paris: first, the sights everyone knows about, even those who have no interest in Paris (the Mona Lisa and the Eiffel Tower are examples); and second, the sights that everyone who’s looked into what to see in Paris knows about, but outside of that are not necessarily household names. I would place the bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, in the second category. It is internationally famous. But while the name might have a familiar ring to many, I wouldn’t expect absolutely everyone to know what is it without explanation. 

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Image by Sierra Maciorowski from Pixabay

Shakespeare and Company is an English-language bookstore in Paris. It’s a bit amusing that an English bookstore would be a tourist attraction in French-speaking Paris, but it is—and after all, many English-speaking writers lived in Paris in the interwar years. The original Shakespeare and Company was a gathering place for well-known English-speaking writers in the 1920s, and while that original store closed in 1941, the current version of Shakespeare and Company is an homage to that original store.  

And there’s good reason it is a tourist attraction. It’s not just rows and rows of stark shelves, like your average Chapters chain store—it is the cozy bookstore of novels and movies and your dreams. It has two storeys full of books, with shelves stretching to the ceiling, and ladders to reach all the shelves. It has cozy reading rooms to sit and leaf through the books in, with pianos you can play to switch up the mood. And it has more than just those standard bookstore features: it has a wishing well in the floor where you can insert coins, with a sign that says, “Feed the starving writers.” It has a nook where tourists write little notes on scraps of paper and leave them behind for others to read. It has the words “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise,” painted on the wall. And the bookshop lives up to this inscription by allowing writers to bunk among the bookshelves in exchange for helping out around the shop. More than 30 000 “tumbleweed” writers have actually done this over the years. 

This is such a unique and interesting landmark that I had to incorporate it into a story, which is why it features in Paris in Clichés. But of course I also had to see it for myself when I was in Paris. I actually found myself going back to it more than once—not only because the smell of books and the feel of a bookstore is incredibly enticing. I found that I needed to hear English once in a while after struggling on my own with mangled French for several days in a row. I stayed in Paris for two weeks, and I think I went back at least three times. It was in this bookstore that I read the first several chapters of World War Z—not the first novel you’d associate with Paris, but for me it is intertwined with my memories of the place!  

Here are a few photos which I took (explaining the poor photo quality!), to give you a feel for the place. Enjoy!

See? I did read World War Z there
Nook for leaving notes

And if you want to explore more, do not miss this great illustrated guide of the store, complete with maps! An Illustrated Map Inside Shakespeare and Company:

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Filed under Paris in Clichés Extras, Randoms & My Life

Independent Bookstores Have NOT Disappeared–They’re Doing Fine, Actually

National Bookstore, by Ramon FVelasquez. Licensed under Creative Commons.

National Bookstore, by Ramon FVelasquez. Licensed under Creative Commons.

So it was bad news for a while for independent bookstores–you know, those tiny neighbourhood shops crowded with books and run by a dedicated owner or two. Chain bookstores were swallowing up their business left and right. Thousands closed as big-box retailers like Barnes & Noble and Borders took over (or Chapters and Indigo bookstores, if you’re from Canada, like me). But, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s these very chains that are now in danger from online retailers like Amazon. While your local independent bookstore (the ones that survived, at least) has managed to hang onto loyal customers and stay afloat.

In fact, Slate magazine recently reported sales at independent bookstores have grown 8 percent a year over the past three years.* Indie bookstores have done particularly well in categories that Amazon has not managed to take over with ebooks, such as hardcover nonfiction. Also, they’re under less pressure to have a high turnover of merchandise, so they have can a bigger selection of old, well-loved classics.

As for me, I publish ebooks on Amazon (and other platforms), but I would never want Amazon to rule the whole book market. I am a reader as well as a writer. I applaud indie bookstores’ tenacity at staying in the game, and catering to specific customers’ needs. Is there anything more comforting than browse rows of dusty classics, after all? And perhaps picking up a book to read you never knew you wanted to read?

In addition, it just makes sense these bookstores would thrive on hardcover books, nonfiction especially. As I’ve argued before, ebooks will never completely replace print. There will always be some works you want to have a hard copy of, and likely a good quality hardcover copy of, as the work has value to you. And illustrated books such as children’s books and cookbooks do not translate as nicely to an ebook format, at least at the moment.

Lastly, I also have this ingrained impression that big-box bookstores are evil–my youth was filled with frantic media stories about how chain bookstores would take over the world. (The movie You’ve Got Mail can’t have helped–the plot concerns a small bookstore owner put out of business by a dastardly big-box store owner… whom she falls in love with, of course). So my inner instinct is to cheer when I hear they’re in trouble. Size is great–until it makes you so inflexible that more nimble competitors can take you down before you realize it! However, to gloat over the currently downtrodden seems a little mean.

What do you think? Do you think indie bookstores are doing better than ever? Where do you shop?

As a final note in support of certain printed books, here is a humorous take by IKEA on the superiority of their print catalogue to the electronic version:

* The stats from the Slate article refer to American bookstores–I’m not sure what the comparable stats for Canada, or elsewhere in the world, would be. Let’s hope they’re comparable.

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Filed under Ebooks, GENERAL Bookish Thoughts